Saturday, July 02, 2011

Boxes and Rails

I recently visited St Patrick's, Soho Square for the Juventutem Mass, I spent all of the Mass hearing confessions. It was interesting that there was no confession room, therefore no option for face to face confession , only those very trad double sided continental boxes, with a grill and a curtain and a shutter on both sides and double doors in front of the priest to close when a penitent came. I haven't used one before, I was a little worried that I might have a penitent on both sides which fortunately that didn't happen: I wasn't quite sure of the etiquette. The good thing about hearing confessions in such anonymity, is penitents tend to stay focussed on confessing sins rather than wanting counselling.
The other good thing is because the box is so public, I felt quite safe, which I don't always in an "open" modern confession room.
St Patrick's has finished their £3m restoration and very nice it is too. Here, at St Mary Magdalen's our budget is more modest and therefore our progress is much, much slower. One of the features I was glad to see were the rather handsome altar rails. Here, in Brighton, people ask for the restoration of the altar rails and a lot of people choose to receive Holy Communion kneeling but in this part of the Church there is an ideological problem with them. It would just be a waste of time and money to go through the process of designing them, making drawings and applying for permission to install them.

Apart from the obvious advantages for those who wish to receive the Lord kneeling, the young don't have a problem but the elderly do, is that the form a barrier between the nave and the sanctuary. I have been trying to encourage parents to bring small children to the front so they can see. If I were less than 4ft high and had to spend an hour looking at someone's rear end, I would be very naughty! However, parents are a little nervous about it, one dad said he was terrified his five year old son might run onto the sanctuary and pull the altar cloth off. Altar rails would solve the problem.

Interestingly, the Churches around here that are able to be kept open, without supervision, all have a strong distinction between the nave and the sanctuary, either rails or a very raised sanctuary. This gives the impression that the sanctuary is alarmed or has some othe security provision, without a barrier of some sort people seem happy to wander around at will.

23 comments:

shane said...

Oh how I hate face-to-face confession! It's always embarrassing, particularly when it's a priest you know. (When the priest is invisible, I always put on a fake accent to disguise myself).

The best way to promote active participation is not ripping out the altar rails but getting rid of the pews. Let people stand through the liturgy. Pews are a Protestant innovation and hamper reverent, participatory worship.

pelerin said...

Regarding the 'etiquette' for a double confessional I seem to remember that the Priest had a sliding door to the grille. If you could not see a pair of feet under the curtain you would go in and wait until the little door was slid back and you knew then that it was your turn. When you had finished, the door closed and the Priest heard the confession of the person the other side.

I tend to think that the absence of the distinction between the nave and the sanctuary has been a major factor in the loss of reverence today. I believe the removal of so many altar rails coincided with the Open Plan living favoured in homes of the time. It is ironic that in cathedrals and churches where large numbers of tourists visit, they now have to put up rope barriers similar to those in banks and cinemas to keep people off the sanctuary.

Yes when commenting on the security in one of the local churches which remains open I was told that if anyone so much as touches the altar rails with a handbag an alarm would go off.

Fr Anthony Talbot said...

I always think of receiving Holy Communion next to each other, 'shoulder to shoulder',as our sign of unity and charity at the Eucharistic banquet, in fact an eschatological sign; queueing just reminds me of the anonymity and boredom of the supermarket checkout.

Physiocrat said...

Rather than altar rails, why not lay a strip of yellow and black tape along the edge of the altar step, on the grounds of 'elf 'n safety? It would look so hideous that people would ask for the altar rails to be put back in their place.

Annie Elizabeth said...

Just had the opportunity to have my confession heard here in France in one of the continental "trad" boxes as described (at the ICRSP's Chapelle St. Rita in Beziers http://defende-nos-in-proelio.blogspot.com/2011/06/beziers-best-kept-secret.html): it was great and yes, the configuration keeps the mind focused - I felt it helped me make a better confession. I've always hated face-to-face confession - I'm not coming for a cozy chat, but to salvage my immortal soul. Somehow the dark, discreet traditional set-up seems more fit for purpose.

pelerin said...

Annie Elizabeth has a good point. The confined space helped concentration, as did being in the dark with the only available light coming through the grille. Once the curtain was drawn you were away from the distractions of the world.

I remember when the reconciliation room was built in my old parish. There was still a part of it where you could remain anonymous but it was no longer the comforting confined space I had been used to.

I have not been to Confession in one of the old boxes since they disappeared and like most people have got used to the present system including face to face but only when I don't know the Priest.

Anita Moore said...

Re the confessional box: is the penitent in an open space? What is to prevent his being heard by others outside?

I also dislike face-to-face confession. I never do it face-to-face. I have always thought the effort to remove privacy and anonymity constitutes a frontal assault on the Sacrament.

Julie said...

The safety angle is interesting, I had never thought of that.

One trad church I attend only uses one side of the box; the line forms on the far, empty side which makes perfect sense. The other uses BOTH SIDES and I really cannot work out how that goes!! It seems like person A would hear person B or at least what the priest says, whispering or not. But it must work, eh?

Fr Gabriel Burke C.C. said...

In my last parish we had a confession room. There was the option of sitting behind a grill . I never felt safe in it. There was only one door into the room.
Now in my new parish we have the traditional box. It is perfect. When a penitent enters their side I simply pull the shutter back. I also switch off the light, this ensure the penitents anonymity.
In my last parish I was a school chaplain, I could not help notice that when I heard confessions in a room I had very few students but when I used a grill I had a long line of penitents.

Fr Gabriel Burke C.C. said...

I forgot to mention in my present parish we have altar rails. People kneel and receive for communion

nickbris said...

At St Swithins when attendance at confession with our resident priest dropped off towards middle of term a Monk from the local Monastery was brought in and then we all went.

parepidemos said...

Dear Father Talbot,

Rather than a supermarket, I prefer the image I once heard expressed by Blessed Mother Teresa.
She saw the queue to receive Communion as akin to soup line, for that is what we are: impoverished souls hungry for the Lord and lining up to be fed. Those waiting in line focus on what they are about to receive.

I guess it all depends on how one expresses reverence and we bring our own prejudices to any discussion. However, standing and kneeling are both licit options as are receiving on the tongue or in the hand. We must, I am sure you will agree, respect such options.

Not long ago on this blog, one of our fellow Eastern Rite Catholics reminded us that they have always stood to receive the Lord - and challenged any of us to accuse them of irreverence.

Jana said...

How strange to see that abroad people are accustomed to "confession rooms" and not to the normal confessional. I have seen a confessional room only once in my life.
Anita: Yes, the penitent is in an open space, in church. But one whispers and the other people present keep distance.
The point with confession on both sides is that the priest does not get pain in his neck leaning on one side only. There can be looong queues in Catholic countries (I am Czech) for a confession, priests can sit there for many hours, especially on 1st Fridays. So they switch the sides. There is one queue for one confessional, but when the first penitent is finished, the next one goes to the other side.
And yes, people go there to confess sins only, not for some councelling. The others in the queue would kill them...

Jana

Anonymous said...

If St Bartholomew has rails surely the actual Catholic church of St Mary have them???

Have a look on the following site (incredibly good rails yet cheap!!)

http://churchantiques.com/category/railings/

Anita Moore said...

Jana: thank you for the elucidation. I have never seen such a confessional. When I was a kid, we did have a double-sided confessional where priest and penitents were all behind closed doors, in separate little rooms, all more or less sound-proofed. The penitent sat in the dark. I found this scary, but then I was not properly catechized. The reconciliation rooms are a new thing, affording little to no privacy even though the priest is behind a screen. I maintain that these are a frontal assault on the Sacrament.

Parapidemos: Not long ago on this blog, one of our fellow Eastern Rite Catholics reminded us that they have always stood to receive the Lord - and challenged any of us to accuse them of irreverence.

The question is not whether standing to receive Holy Communion is inherently irreverent. The real question is the effect of suddenly changing an immemorial custom. What is done in the Eastern Rite is really not relevant.

The fact is that in the Latin Rite, Catholics have knelt for Holy Communion since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. It had always been understood that this is how we show reverence to our Eucharistic Lord. Then, all of a sudden, we were not to kneel anymore. Nobody ever explained why standing should now be more appropriate than kneeling, or why kneeling should now be inappropriate. Along with this came the abolition of the altar rail and the shoving of the tabernacle off to one side. If we are no longer to reverence our Eucharistic Lord, then perhaps the Eucharist is no big deal after all. This is the message that was received by many Latin Rite Catholics who now no longer believe in the Real Presence.

Chris said...

Parapidemos, Thanks for your comment regarding Eastern Rite Catholics. We often feel that our Latin Rite brothers & sisters forget our existence so I’m glad you've remembered us guys.

I’d also like to point out to others here that we don’t have confessional boxes (shock & horror) but stand with the priest in front of the iconostasis to confess our sins. I was inside a confession box once when we were on vacation and found it very confining - and way too dark. There wasn’t even a greeting from the priest or words from scripture which I found strange. My mom told me she found the confession box depressing. She likes being next to the saints. It gives her a sense of security and belonging.

As I challenged people to accuse us of being irreverent because we stand for Communion, I also challenge anyone to accuse us of being irreverent because we don’t
have confession boxes and always go face to face. Remember guys, Latin Rite Catholics aren’t the only Catholics around so don't make sweeping statements.

Oh Shane I totally agree about standing during the Divine Liturgy but I don't think some Catholics would be in favor. Our church installed seats about 10 years ago. OK I admit I use them but not when my grandma is around. LOL.

Strange Logic said...

Following all the new insights after Vat II we were told that the sanctuary had to be opened up for everyone because we were all part of the ministerial priesthood. Anyway, in order that the people could be much closer to the action it was necessary to move the altar forward; part of the solution was to extend the sanctuary out into the nave. But, in order to extend the sanctuary they had to remove the first few rows of pews. The effect was not to bring the people closer but to push them further back down the nave. So the priest had much more space for his creativity but the congregation had to make do with fewer pews. Strange logic.
And in order to make the people feel more inclusive they removed the altar rails. So what happened? The priest and his extraordinary ministers now stand OFF the sanctuary to distribute holy Communion and the people are pushed even further away from the sanctuary and altar. Despite all those hollow promises we are still being kept firmly in our place in the nave - but even further back than they had been before all these wonderful new insights on inclusiveness were discovered.
There is an obvious flaw in this logic that still escapes many priests and bishops. You do not make people feel more inclusive by pushing them further and further away from the altar and tabernacle.

One effect of the removal of altar rails is that the area around the altar is just another place in the church to walk around. On a visit to my parish church about three years ago I saw three ladies chatting beside the altar, one sitting on the top step talking on her mobile phone, and a young child using the great space between altar and tabernacle as a play area.

parepidemos said...

Dear Ms Moore,

I am puzzled by your statement that people have been told that they may no longer kneel. I can speak only for the parishes I have attended, and witness people both standing and kneeling. In our own parish there are four kneelers for those who wish to receive on their knees. Mother uses them which is her right. Perhaps oddly for some, although she kneels, mother receives in the hand whilst my father (who stands) receives on the tongue. All are licit options.

You speak of a long tradition being changed, and you are correct. For some this must have been painful and, no doubt, the process should have been handled differently. However, there is now a whole generation for whom Communion in the hand and standing is the tradition. I defend the right of anyone to kneel and receive on the tongue, but I would hope that no one would accuse me of being disrespectful by standing and receiving in my hand.

As for the practice of the Eastern Rite Catholics being irrelevant, I must, with respect, disagree. Blanket statements such as "kneeling is more reverential" is insulting to many Eastern Catholics. If standing is reverential for an Eastern Rite Catholic it cannot be irreverent for a Roman Rite Catholic to adopt that same position.

Regarding the tabernacle being on the side; the situating of the tabernacle on the main altar is a relatively recent practice in terms of Church history. The tabernacle in a side chapel is a much older tradition (witness the aumbries in Gothic churches). There is some discussion as to when placing it on the main altar became the norm, but it was probably after the Reformation. Interestingly enough, St Peter's and the Pope's own cathedral (John Lateran) in Rome have the tabernacle in a side chapel. Old films show that this was the situation even before Vatican II.

Both you and I would, no doubt, wish to see greater reverence displayed towards the Blessed Sacrament and, indeed, in church as a whole. Mother would not be seen in anything other than a dress or skirt in church and I suspect that the males in my family are unusual in always wearing jackets and ties. However, I would hesitate to say that the chap in the next pew is less respectful because he wears a polo shirt. My pet peeve is hearing the chatter of elderly ladies before Mass. Bless them.

Anita Moore said...

Strange Logic: Anyway, in order that the people could be much closer to the action it was necessary to move the altar forward; part of the solution was to extend the sanctuary out into the nave. But, in order to extend the sanctuary they had to remove the first few rows of pews. The effect was not to bring the people closer but to push them further back down the nave. So the priest had much more space for his creativity but the congregation had to make do with fewer pews. Strange logic.

Actually, when you think about it, it makes sense. Removing seating space creates the illusion that Mass attendance hasn't dropped.

Parapidemos: I am puzzled by your statement that people have been told that they may no longer kneel. I can speak only for the parishes I have attended, and witness people both standing and kneeling.

Just a couple of months ago, after a weekday Mass at my parish, a woman had the priest berate her because she knelt for Communion. Soon afterward, this same priest tried to give me Communion on the hand even though I clearly presented myself to receive it on the tongue. I can assure you, the posture/Communion Nazis are out there.

As for when the tabernacle was moved to the altar, the same point applies: we have seen, in our lifetimes (I at any rate am old enough to remember) a drastic change in the way things had been for generations, and such an unexplained, sudden change has consequences. The academic appeal of pointing out that the tabernacle only moved to the altar after the Reformation doesn't begin to address the deleterious effect that moving the tabernacle away from front and center has had on people's faith. (If it is in fact true that the tabernacle moved to the altar after the Reformation, that in itself indicates that the Church found this a necessary reinforcement to people's faith in the Real Presence.)

As for the exclusion of the Eastern Rite from discussion, I submit again the practices of the Eastern rite Catholics are not relevant to a discussion of practices in the Latin rite. Quite honestly, I don't see what there is for Eastern Catholics to be offended about. When I talk about hinky practices in my own rite, the farthest thing from my mind is the disparagement of practices in other rites (about which, quite honestly, I am largely ignorant, there being no Catholic churches of any other rite in my entire state). I really can't understand how Eastern Catholics can find anything to be insulted about when Latin Rite Catholics discuss the shenanigans taking place in their own rite. If the topic in question is apples, what cause do oranges have to feel left out?

parepidemos said...

Dear Ms Moore,

It saddens me to think that a priest would berate anyone for kneeling (or standing) to receive Communion as both are licit postures. My own mother had a similar experience when a visiting priest celebrated the EF Mass in our parish; she always kneels so that was not a problem but when she stretched out her hand the priest shook his head. Mother was humiliated and went to see him - with papa in tow - after the Mass to express her thoughts. Upon the return of our parish priest he was reportedly informed that mother was a “force formidable”. Ha.

I believe you are correct in saying that the placing of the tabernacle on the main altar was a reaction to the heresies of the Reformation. However, for over a thousand years, the placement was otherwise. Contrary to what you wrote, this is not merely an academic point. You say that moving the tabernacle had a deleterious effect on people’s faith; so what are you implying about those Catholics who lived before the Reformation and experienced only the tabernacle in a side chapel? Did they have less faith than post-Reformation Catholics?

As for the Eastern Rite Catholics, “Chris” above is more qualified to speak than am I.

fr Anthony Talbot said...

Dear Parepidemos,
Thank you for your comments however I think recieing Holy Communion next to each other should be best for everyone. There is still a procession but in this case it fans out to allow people to show their communion not only with Jesus but also with each other. Everyone has the opportunity of standing or kneeling. I have yet to hear of anyone being refused Holy Communion standing at the altar rail but I have heard of plenty of people being refused for kneeling at the front of the procession.
Whilst it is quicker to give Holy Communion to people arranged next to each other, it actually gives them more time, they need not rush or stand to the side to let the next person though. This also makes it easier to ensure Communion is received and not taken away which sadly does happen.
I cannot see how those waiting in a line that is not going to fan out can be any more focused on what they are about to receive, Food for starving souls, than those who are processing to fan out at the Eucharistic Banquet.
It is true we can learn a lot from our Orthodox brethren. They only kneel for confession, which they must receive before Holy Communion (not to mention the fast from midnight), since for them it is a sign of penance. In the Latin tradition kneeling is also a sign of adoration (following the Hebrew tradition of psalm 94/95 "let us kneel before the God Who made us". As the Liturgy is the prayer of the Church according to a particular Rite surely it is better to adhere to the understanding and practices of that Rite and only adopt those of other Rites for our private devotions?
Perhaps we could confide this important debate to Our Lady of the Sign.

Anita Moore said...

Parapidemos: You say that moving the tabernacle had a deleterious effect on people’s faith; so what are you implying about those Catholics who lived before the Reformation and experienced only the tabernacle in a side chapel? Did they have less faith than post-Reformation Catholics?

Dear Parapidemos, do please resist the temptation to read into my comments more than what I actually say. I implied nothing about pre-Reformation Catholics, nor did I even have them in mind when I formulated my comment. Taking as true the proposition you actually proffered first about when the tabernacle was moved to the altar, I was talking about the Church's response to a fierce frontal assault on the Faith, and especially on the priesthood, the sacrificial character of the Mass, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the face of such an assault, it was clearly necessary to reinforce the faithful as a means of resisting it. Having the tabernacle on the altar would have been a powerful means of doing so. It draws immediate attention and focus to the tabernacle as the first thing one sees upon entering the church, and emphasizes the Eucharist as the living heart of every Catholic church.

Now fast-forward to the late 20th century. After centuries of having the tabernacle front and center, suddenly, it got shoved off to the side, or even made nearly impossible to find, for no apparent reason than because "Vatican II" required such (which is false). In my own cathedral parish, the cathedra was parked right up against the center of the old main altar, which is now used mostly as a plant stand. Add to this the turning around of the priest to face the congregation (also not mandated by Vatican II), and now suddenly Man is the center of attention in the church and at Mass. To justify going back to a state of affairs that existed hundreds of years ago, purely on the strength of it having existed hundreds of years ago, is to fail to account both for developments that have arisen since and for present-day realities. This is in fact the sort of antiquarianism that Ven. Pius XII denounced in his encyclical Mediator Dei.

I am sorry that your mother felt humiliated at not being allowed to receive Holy Communion on the hand at an EF Mass, and maybe the priest should have handled it better. However, unlike the case of the woman berated for trying to receive kneeling, there is actually a legal basis for not permitting Communion on the hand in the Extraordinary Form (cf. Universae ecclesiae).

Fr. Talbot: Everyone has the opportunity of standing or kneeling. I have yet to hear of anyone being refused Holy Communion standing at the altar rail but I have heard of plenty of people being refused for kneeling at the front of the procession.

Indeed. Back when we received Holy Communion at the altar rail, anyone who did not kneel was just presumed to be unable to kneel.

Chris said...

In pre-reformation England, I believe the most common place of reservation, in parish church and cathedral, was a hanging pyx over the High Altar.